Month 7 Day 18
Smitty sighed and ran a hand through his brown hair as he put his coffee cup on his desk. His sour mood was not due to any incompetence of his underlings. It wasn’t their fault if the silence of his office failed to soothe his fraggled nerves or sweeten his dour mood this morning.
I can’t blame Colleen, he told himself for the dozenth time since he’d climbed out of bed. The thought was worn; it had traveled the same path through his mind since he gave that technual chip to the redhead yesterday. He sat down and signed onto his console as the thought pattern continued on automatic; I just gave her the chip. And I stipulated she could only work on it 2 hours a day. 2 hours! To translate a manual on engineering procedures completely outside her training, written in a language she barely knows, using an alphabet with no resemblance to any known alphabet.
He sighed again and rubbed his smarting eyes, the result of a restless night spent chasing this train of thought endlessly. She’s been on tugs since the Academy, wouldn’t have done any translating. It’ll take her weeks, months, to figure out anything. As much as I want to sit down and study their transportation ‘beam’, all I can do is wait. Just put it completely out of my mind until she... The thought train faded long before it reached anything resembling an end, as it always did. It would return. Smitty gave a great sigh, sipped his coffee, and turned to his console screen to look for something that might distract him.
As he reached out to click on the oldest message, a new one came in, sent from Colleen’s desk. The subject said, “First results”.
What? She can’t mean... His finger changed position and clicked to open her message without consulting him. He scanned her words. ‘Smit, I’m sure you’re eager to read this manual, so I decided to send you the first bit that I’ve translated. It doesn’t amount to much; mostly adjectives, pronouns and adverbs, with a smattering of other words that only whet one’s appetite instead of satisfying it. I am lucky that Kolla and I had to modify this very technology when we met, so I recognize some terms and phrases and have an idea what is meant. (I’ve included my thoughts of those inside parenthesis, to be verified, modified or tossed out later, when I’ve had a chance to cross-check with Kolla.) This first look will not be very satisfying for you, but I did want to let you know what (little) progress I have made. Lt C MacDowell’
Smitty opened the file and knew a moment of panic before he realized what he had. The left column held the original Yukoskan text, while in the right column, several common English words had been inserted. The English words were black, the Yukoskan forms were gray. In many places, black English words were followed by a possible explanation inside parenthesis and colored brown.
Color-coded. Reminds me of the awful colors the screen in my quarters went through as I adjusted it back to something I could see. Which of them relies on color? Or is that something they share?
He glanced through several pages, but there wasn’t enough translated to make sense. She did this in 1 day? Which should have been only 2 hours. How? And when? She was at the gym with Tall Bear and Yellow Dog last night, then playing pool with Bugalu and Capac. Blast, if she cut her sleep time short, the captain will have my head!
Jumping to his feet, Smitty left his office and headed for the nearest exit from engineering. As he passed soneone, he hurriedly stated, “Going to bridge to see MacDowell.”
“She’s not there!”
The hurried response made him stop and turn to face Lt Harris. “What?”
Uneasy, Harris glanced at the clock. “Well, I’ve started my shift, so she should be off-duty. She’s probably in quarters, getting ready for bed.” Smitty pushed away the memory of Colleen asleep at her computer, clad in green lace. “Are you okay, Mr Smythe?”
He made a sound, cleared his throat and tried again. “You’re sure she sleeps during B shift?”
“Fairly certain,” Harris confirmed. “She’s too busy in the evenings, and doesn’t look like death warmed over. Anyway, since she hasn’t started cross-training, why would she stay up?”
“Yes,” he agreed absently, and started back for his office. Because I idiotically gave her a manual to translate, even though I knew some other idiot had said she’d never impress me! If I ever see Capt Nash, I’ll wring his neck! Assuming Jane doesn’t wring mine first!
Smitty stopped. I’d hoped Harris had out-grown some of her old habits. He was surprised to see Lt Negron approach the blond engineer. Technically, Negron was part of engineering, but with his specialty in computers, he spent the majority of his time in his own office next to a main frame.
Della greeted the man with a faint smile. “You came all this way to see me? Sorry, I’m working. Look me up after shift.”
Negron turned pink. “This is work. My work. What the space are you doing with your computer?”
She turned from the tool chest to stare at him in confusion. “I’m nowhere near a computer.”
“Not here. In your quarters. The last couple days...”
“Well, just the usual stuff. Messages, letters, magazines, that kind of thing. Why?”
“Your computer has - again - been working non-stop for over -”
“Wrong,” Harris denied. “I used to forget more than I remembered, but these days, I turn off my console before I start my shift. I definitely did this morning, so my computer is off.”
“Your computer is working its butt off,” Negron refuted.
“If you don’t believe me, go look for yourself!” Harris shot back.
“Not alone!” Smitty barked, and both lieutenants looked at him. “You just reminded me, Harris, your roommate is likely asleep.”
“Right. The door’s probably locked.” The blond gave the specialist a sour look and turned to their superior. “I could show him, Mr Smythe, if you can spare me for a few minutes. But I don’t know why I should; my computer is off!”
“That computer has been overworked for months!” Negron declared.
“Months?” Smitty repeated. Can’t imagine what Harris would have her computer do that would take it months-
“Well, just a couple days this time,” Negron corrected. “Most personal computers went silent during the quarantine, but before that, it was used almost around the clock for 2 or 3 months.”
“Which console is this?” Smitty asked.
Negron consulted his notes. “Unit 245021048, assigned to Della Harris.”
Smitty turned to Harris, who turned pink. “I don’t remember the serial numbers of every piece of equipment assigned to me! Especially not ones bolted to the desk!”
“No, of course not,” Smitty agreed. Don’t remember the serial numbers of mine, neither the one in my quarters, nor in my office. “Let’s go,” he said, and started for the exit. Hearing the lieutenants arguing behind him, he turned back. “If Colleen is asleep, and one of you wakes her, you’ll answer to me.”
Negron blinked in surprise. “Yes, sir,” he acknowledged, and the three continued on.